TfL says major Tube upgrades on Northern Line and Jubilee Line cancelled because of unexpected dip in passenger numbers

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TfL is confident of upping service frequency without additional trains (Source: Getty)

Upgrades planned for the Jubilee Line and Northern Line have gone off track due to an unexpected dip in passenger numbers on the Tube, Transport for London (TfL) said today.

A fall of around two per cent in Tube numbers has had a significant impact on TfL's five-year business plan, as the Tube is the only part of the public transport network making a profit, leaving the transport body "faced with an investment prioritisation process".

TfL has shelved the upgrades to buy more trains for the two lines to save £600m over the business plan period.

Read more: On track: The £1.2bn Northern Line extension just finished tunnelling work

The transport body previously said it was "temporarily pausing" the plans, but TfL's director of strategy and service development, David Hughes, said today:

The train procurement, in effect we cancel, because you can't keep the bidders dangling. You can't say to them, thank you for your bids, we might get back to you in one, two, three, we don't know quite when.

Speaking at a meeting of the London Assembly Transport Committee, Hughes added that while there was no reason why procurement could not be restarted in the future, the chances of that occurring will decrease over time, with fleet replacements on the horizon.

"The reality is that the Jubilee and Northern Line fleets are both due to be replaced at the end of the 2030s, so the longer you leave this procurement of an additional 27 trains then obviously the shorter the payback period, and therefore the more difficult the investment case to go and buy additional trains," he said. 

The Northern Line upgrade plan was to buy 17 additional trains, while the Jubilee Line would have had 10 new trains.

London's deputy mayor for transport told the Committee that the two per cent drop in passenger numbers on the Tube was "a significant issue", because of its role in driving profit.

"It makes a considerable surplus, and that is used to cross subsidise other services," Val Shawcross said.

She added that there had been "a national drop off" in numbers being seen across train operating companies too, and by a steeper amount.

As they examine the reasons for the drop off, Shawcross said early indications were that there were "a number of economic factors" at work, and there seems to be "a softening of the leisure traffic", with people going out less often for shopping, and to restaurants.

The unexpected dip in passenger numbers meant the need to realign the TfL business plan. 

Shawcross said: "There has been that need to recognise that this trend might continue, hence the need to make some savings."

The Northern and Jubilee plans have been dropped rather than others, because TfL's priority at present is on rolling stock investment for ageing fleets, particularly the Piccadilly Line. The Jubilee and Northern Lines have had substantial investment plugged into upgrades, and run a high frequency service compared to some of the other lines.

Hughes added that TfL is confident of delivering extra capacity without pressing ahead with the purchase of new trains, by looking at a number of tweaks to the infrastructure and utilisation of existing fleets. 

Read more: Two major Tube upgrades have been halted by TfL